A Word Only A Word by Georg Ebers
For the first time in his life Ulrich had witnessed the death of a human being.
How often he had laughed at the fool, or thought his words absurd and wicked;--but the dead man inspired him with respect, and the thought of the old jester's corpse exerted a far deeper and more lasting influence upon him, than his father's supposed death. Hitherto he had only been able to imagine him as he had looked in life, but now the vision of him stretched at full length, stark and pale like the dead Pellicanus, often rose before his mind.
The artist was a silent man, and understood how to think and speak in lines and colors, better than in words. He only became eloquent and animated, when the conversation turned upon subjects connected with his art.
At Toulouse he purchased three new horses, and engaged the same number of French servants, then went to a jeweller and bought many articles. At the inn he put the chains and rings he had obtained, into pretty little boxes, and wrote on them in neat Gothic characters with special care: "Helena, Anna, Minerva, Europa and Lucia;" one name on each.
Ulrich watched him and remarked that those were not his children's names.
Moor looked up, and answered smiling: "These are only young artists, six sisters, each one of whom is as dear to me as if she were my own daughter. I hope we shall find them in Madrid, one of them, Sophonisba, at any rate."
"But there are only five boxes," observed the boy, "and you haven't written Sophonisba on any of them."
"She is to have something better," replied his patron smiling. "My portrait, which I began to paint yesterday, will be finished here. Hand me the mirror, the maul-stick, and the colors."
The picture was a superb likeness, absolutely faultless. The pure brow curved in lofty arches at the temples, the small eyes looked as clear and bright as they did in the mirror, the firm mouth shaded by a thin moustache, seemed as if it were just parting to utter a friendly word. The close-shaven beard on the cheeks and chin rested closely upon the white ruff, which seemed to have just come from under the laundresses' smoothing-iron.
How rapidly and firmly the master guided his brush! And Sophonisba, whom Moor distinguished by such a gift, how was he to imagine her? The other five sisters too! For their sakes he first anticipated with pleasure the arrival at Madrid.
In Bayonne the artist left the baggage-wagon behind. His luggage was put on mules, and when the party of travellers started, it formed an imposing caravan.
Ulrich expressed his surprise at such expenditure, and Moor answered kindly: "Pellicanus says: 'Among fools one must be a fool.' We enter Spain as the king's guests, and courtiers have weak eyes, and only notice people who give themselves airs."
At Fuenterrabia, the first Spanish city they reached, the artist received many honors, and a splendid troop of cavalry escorted him thence to Madrid.
Moor came as a guest to King Philip's capital for the third time, and was received there with all the tokens of respect usually paid only to great noblemen.
His old quarters in the treasury of the Alcazar, the palace of the kings of Castile, were again assigned to him. They consisted of a studio and suite of apartments, which by the monarch's special command, had been fitted up for him with royal magnificence.
Ulrich could not control his amazement. How poor and petty everything that a short time before, at Castle Rappolstein, had awakened his wonder and admiration now appeared.
During the first few days the artist's reception-room resembled a bee-hive; for aristocratic men and women, civil and ecclesiastical dignitaries passed in and out, pages and lackeys brought flowers, baskets of fruits, and other gifts. Every one attached to the court knew in what high favor the artist was held by His Majesty, and therefore hastened to win his good-will by attentions and presents. Every hour there was something new and astonishing to be seen, but the artist himself most awakened the boy's surprise.
The unassuming man, who on the journey had associated as familiarly with the poor invalids he had picked up by the wayside, the tavern-keepers, and soldiers of his escort, as if he were one of themselves, now seemed a very different person. True, he still dressed in black, but instead of cloth and silk, he wore velvet and satin, while two gold chains glittered beneath his ruff. He treated the greatest nobles as if he were doing them a favor by receiving them, and he himself were a person of unapproachable rank.
On the first day Philip and his queen Isabella of Valois, had sent for him and adorned him with a costly new chain.
On this occasion Ulrich saw the king. Dressed as a page he followed Moor, carrying the picture the latter intended for a gift to his royal host.
At the time of their entrance into the great reception-hall, the monarch was sitting motionless, gazing into vacancy, as if all the persons gathered around him had no existence for him. His head was thrown far back, pressing down the stiff ruff, on which it seemed to rest as if it were a platter. The fair-haired man's well-cut features wore the rigid, lifeless expression of a mask. The mouth and nostrils were slightly contracted, as if they shrank from breathing the same air with other human beings.
The monarch's face remained unmoved, while receiving the Pope's legates and the ambassadors from the republic of Venice. When Moor was led before him, a faint smile was visible beneath the soft, drooping moustache and close-shaven beard on the cheeks and chin; the prince's dull eyes also gained some little animation.
The day after the reception a bell rang in the studio, which was cleared of all present as quickly as possible, for it announced the approach of the king, who appeared entirely alone and spent two whole hours with Moor.
All these marks of distinction might have turned a weaker brain, but Moor received them calmly, and as soon as he was alone with Ulrich or Sophonisba, appeared no less unassuming and kindly, than at Emmendingen and on the journey through France.
A week after taking possession of the apartments in the treasury, the servants received orders to refuse admittance to every one, without distinction of rank or person, informing them that the artist was engaged in working for His Majesty.
Sophonisba Anguisciola was the only person whom Moor never refused to see. He had greeted the strange girl on his arrival, as a father meets his child.
Ulrich had been present when the artist gave her his portrait, and saw her, overwhelmed with joy and gratitude, cover her face with her hands and burst into loud sobs.
During Moor's first visit to Madrid, the young girl had come from Cremona to the king's court with her father and five sisters, and since then the task of supporting all six had rested on her shoulders.
Old Cavaliere Anguisciola was a nobleman of aristocratic family, who had squandered his large patrimony, and now, as he was fond of saying, lived day by day "by trusting God." A large portion of his oldest daughter's earnings he wasted at the gaming table with dissolute nobles, relying with happy confidence upon the talent displayed also by his younger children, and on what he called "trust in God." The gay, clever Italian was everywhere a welcome guest, and while Sophonisba toiled early and late, often without knowing how she was to obtain suitable food and clothing for her sisters and herself, his life was a series of banquets and festivals. Yet the noble girl retained the joyous courage inherited from her father, nay, more--even in necessity she did not cease to take a lofty view of art, and never permitted anything to leave her studio till she considered it finished.
At first Moor watched her silently, then he invited her to work in his studio, and avail herself of his advice and assistance.
So she had become his pupil, his friend.
Soon the young girl had no secrets from him, and the glimpses of her domestic life thus afforded touched him and brought her nearer and nearer to his heart.
The old Cavaliere praised the lucky accident, and was ready to show himself obliging, when Moor offered to let him and his daughters occupy a house he had purchased, that it might be kept in a habitable condition, and when the artist had induced the king to grant Sophonisba a larger annual salary, the father instantly bought a second horse.
The young girl, in return for so many benefits, was gratefully devoted to the artist, but she would have loved him even without them. His society was her greatest pleasure. To be allowed to stay and paint with him, become absorbed in conversation about art, its problems, means and purposes, afforded her the highest, purest happiness.
When she had discharged the duties imposed upon her by her attendance upon the queen, her heart drew her to the man she loved and honored. When she left him, it always seemed as if she had been in church, as if her soul had been steeped in purity and was effulgent. Moor had hoped to find her sisters with her in Madrid, but the old Cavaliere had taken them away with him to Italy. His "trust in God" was rewarded, for he had inherited a large fortune. What should he do longer in Madrid! To entertain the stiff, grave Spaniards and move them to laughter, was a far less pleasing occupation than to make merry with gay companions and be entertained himself at home.
Sophonisba was provided for, and the beautiful, gay, famous maid of honor would have no lack of suitors. Against his daughter's wish, he had given to the richest and most aristocratic among them, the Sicilian baron Don Fabrizio di Moncada, the hope of gaining her hand. "Conquer the fortress! When it yields--you can hold it," were his last words; but the citadel remained impregnable, though the besieger could bring into the field as allies a knightly, aristocratic bearing, an unsullied character, a handsome, manly figure, winning manners, and great wealth.
Ulrich felt a little disappointed not to find the five young girls, of whom he had dreamed, in Madrid; it would have been pleasant to have some pretty companions in the work now to begin.
Adjoining the studio was a smaller apartment, separated from the former room by a corridor, that could be closed, and by a heavy curtain. Here a table, at which the five girls might easily have found room, was placed in a favorable light for Ulrich. He was to draw from plastic models, and there was no lack of these in the Alcazar, for here rose a high, three-story wing, to which when wearied by the intrigues of statecraft and the restraints of court etiquette, King Philip gladly retired, yielding himself to the only genial impulse of his gloomy soul, and enjoyed the noble forms of art.
In the round hall on the lower floor countless plans, sketches, drawings and works of art were kept in walnut chests of excellent workmanship. Above this beautifully ornamented apartment--was the library, and in the third story the large hall containing the masterpieces of Titian.
The restless statesman, Philip, was no less eager to collect and obtain new and beautiful works by the great Venetian, than to defend and increase his own power and that of the Church. But these treasures were kept jealously guarded, accessible to no human being except himself and his artists.
Philip was all and all to himself; caring nothing for others, he did not deem it necessary, that they should share his pleasures. If anything outside the Church occupied a place in his regard, it was the artist, and therefore he did not grudge him what he denied to others.
Not only in the upper story, but in the lower ones also antique and modern busts and statues were arranged in appropriate places, and Moor was at liberty to choose from among them, for the king permitted him to do what was granted to no one else.
He often summoned him to the Titian Hall, and still more frequently rang the bell and entered the connecting corridor, accessible to himself alone, which led from the rooms devoted to art and science to the treasury and studio, where he spent hours with Moor. Ulrich eagerly devoted himself to the work, and his master watched his labor like an attentive, strict, and faithful teacher; meantime he carefully guarded against overtaxing the boy, allowed him to accompany him on many a ride, and advised him to look about the city. At first the lad liked to stroll through the streets and watch the long, brilliant processions, or timidly shrink back when closely-muffled men, their figures wholly invisible except the eyes and feet, bore a corpse along, or glided on mysterious missions through the streets. The bull-fights might have bewitched him, but he loved horses, and it grieved him to see the noble animal, wounded and killed.
He soon wearied of the civil and religious ceremonies, that might be witnessed nearly every day, and which always exerted the same power of attraction to the inhabitants of Madrid. Priests swarmed in the Alcazar, and soldiers belonging to every branch of military service, daily guarded or marched by the palace.
On the journey he had met plenty of mules with gay plumes and tassels, oddly-dressed peasants and citizens. Gentlemen in brilliant court uniforms, princes and princesses he saw daily in the court-yards, on the stairs, and in the park of the palace.
At Toulouse and in other cities, through which he had passed, life had been far more busy, active, and gay than in quiet Madrid, where everything went on as if people were on their way to church, where a cheerful face was rarely seen, and men and women knew of no sight more beautiful and attractive, than seeing poor Jews and heretics burned.
Ulrich did not need the city; the Alcazar was a world in itself, and offered him everything he desired.
He liked to linger in the stables, for there he could distinguish himself; but it was also delightful to work, for Moor chose models and designs that pleased the lad, and Sophonisba Anguisciola, who often painted for hours in the studio by the master's side, came to Ulrich in the intervals, looked at what he had finished, helped, praised, or scolded him, and never left him without a jest on her lips.
True, he was often left to himself; for the king sometimes summoned the artist and then quitted the palace with him for several days, to visit secluded country houses, and there--the old Hollander had told the lad--painted under Moor's instructions.
On the whole, there were new, strange, and surprising things enough, to keep the sensation of "Fortune," alive in Ulrich's heart. Only it was vexatious that he found it so hard to make himself intelligible to people, but this too was soon to be remedied, for the pupil obtained two companions.